Senator forces public readout of 628-page COVID bill – National & International News – FRI 5Mar2021

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) forces readout of 628-page COVID bill to educate public about irrelevant provisions.

GOP Senator forces reading of all 628 pages of COVID bill. US adds 379,000 jobs in February. Italy blocks 250k COVID jabs destined for Australia. Iran and IAEA remove roadblocks to US nuclear talks.

NATIONAL NEWS

GOP Senator forces reading of all 628 pages of stimulus bill

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (WI) is forcing the Senate to read out all 628 pages of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill on the Senate floor before any voting takes place. Democrats have dismissed the move as a Republican tactic to further delay the bill. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would “accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard day in, day out to help the Senate function”.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) said, “I’m not sitting here for reading the bill”. Since most Republicans oppose the bill anyway, we can assume few Republicans will attend the reading in any case.

Johnson says that the reading out was an exercise to educate the public about the innumerable addendums that make it into these massive bills, many of which have nothing to do with their stated purpose. Members of Congress and their staff rarely read these bills in their entirety and often have no idea what they’re voting for. Previous COVID bills have been minefields of irrelevant provisions, including one in December’s CARES bill that imprisons people who illegally stream online content for up to 10 years. It will at least be interesting to see what’s in this one before the fact rather than after the fact.

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US adds 379,000 jobs in February

After disappointing jobs and unemployment figures in January, experts see the addition of 379,000 jobs over the last month as a hopeful sign for the US economy. February’s figures more than doubled January’s, indicating greater optimism among business owners as COVID cases drop and states relax restrictions on businesses. However, it is still only a fraction of the 10 million or so jobs lost during the pandemic.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate also fell to 6.2%. It should be noted that these figures can be deceptive as it doesn’t count people who have stopped looking for work.

Employers are also optimistic about the progress towards passing Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. At present, the bill includes $1,400 checks to most adults, an additional $400/week in unemployment aid and further aid to small businesses.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Italy blocks 250k COVID jabs destined for Australia

Under a “transparency and authorization mechanism” established by the EU last month, Italy has blocked the export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that were due to be shipped to Australia. The EU introduced the scheme last month after a spat with AstraZeneca over vaccine production and deliveries. The authorization allows any EU country to block exports of vaccines produced within its borders to countries outside the EU. Exceptions are made for countries who are part of the COVAX scheme, which safeguards distribution to more vulnerable countries.

Italy defended the decision by saying that the shipment was much larger than those destined for EU countries. The EU has publicly accused AZ and Pfizer of not honoring its agreements with the bloc. The EU has received much criticism for its slow vaccine rollout. Only 8% of EU citizens have received a vaccine, compared to the UK’s 30%. Australia has few cases and hopes to be producing its own vaccines domestically by next month.

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Iran and IAEA remove roadblocks to US nuclear talks

Rafael Grossi, the head of the  International Atomic Energy Agency, says that Iranian officials and IAEA inspectors have agreed to restart technical meetings between the two sides. After the agreement was announced, European countries said they would hold off on proposed censures on Iran.

Grossi hopes the meetings will be a first step in rebuilding a modicum of trust between the two sides. IAEA inspectors have raised doubts as to the credibility of some of Iran’s answers to key questions about the nuclear program. Grossi said he had decided “we either continue with this merry-go-round or try something else”.

If all goes well, the meetings should pave the way for renewed talks with the US.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning against US plans to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Netanyahu is facing a tight re-election race for re-election later this month. His rhetoric seemed more geared towards stoking fears among his base than proposing any feasible alternative to the present international dilemma.

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